Last August, CBR News checked in with Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards to talk about their then upcoming series "The Question" for DC Comics. Since then five issues have been published and the sixth and final issue of the series hits stands this Wednesday April 20th, so we decided to catch up with the guys to talk a bit more about the series, what the future holds and much more. Note, for those not current on the series, there are spoilers aplenty for the series in the following.
To begin with, we asked both Veitch and Edwards what made The Question, the character, tick for them. "The Question of the Charlton days always looked really cool," writer Rick Veitch told CBR News. "The stories weren't great, but his mask always rabbed me. I liked the way it came on with the smoke from his belt and its lack of normal features made it the center of every panel he was in. And of course The Question had no superpowers; he was just a man. Later, when Ditko went on to do Mr. A, I could see, even as a kid, that he was exploring the bleeding edges of who and what the Question represented. That knocked me out."
"For me- it's his anonymity," added artist Tommy Lee Edwards. "I love the idea of a hero being a complete outsider. The Question is just a face in the crowd, and by some readers, seen as a harmless nutcase. However, everything comes together in our story as we eventually learn that sometimes it pays to be a 'nobody,' and that The Question is much more than he seems."
This new "The Question" mini-series was originally conceived as part of a planned "Superstorm" event, a series of books featuring DC heroes but handled through the Wildstorm editorial offices. "Superstorm" was to include a series for our faceless hero as well as the Vigilante, and the books were to be built around the "Lex Luthor: Man of Steel" mini-series by Brian Azzarello, the first issue of which just recently hit comic shops. The line hit a number of bumps when the original writer of "Vigilante" was fired and plans for the line had to be scrapped, but the books ended up being released as part of the regular DCU.
This new Question has evolved quite considerably under the guidance of Veitch, now taking on the role of a wise shaman who can communicate with cities as though they are living entities through their Chi, a vital force thought to be a part of all things according to Taoism and other Chinese philosophies. This new series finds The Question drawn to Metropolis and it's extremely strong chi network. Within the city, The Question investigates the Subterraneans, a new group of professional criminals operating under the nose of Superman and getting away with it. At the same time, major changes are in store for the city of Metropolis as Lex Luthor, who's back as head of Lexcorp, has begun construction of the giant Science Spire complex in the middle of Metropolis. All of these are new concepts being explored for the first time in "The Question," but they haven't been mentioned in other Superman DCU books thus far. Veitch explained the discrepancy.
"One of the odd things about doing the Question was that it was a Wildstorm book edited on the West Coast, but its set in the heart of DC continuity so the New York office should have been intimately involved," explained Veitch. "We had our original planning meetings in New York, but after that it seemed like there was a big disconnect. There was no coordination between the creators and publishing. Tommy and I didn't even know Superstorm was in trouble until the first issue of Question was ready to roll out!
"Right now the only other Superstorm book that I know of that is on track is the 'Luthor' mini by Brian and Lee that's just started coming out. It gets deeper into Luthor's plans for the Spire. There was also supposed to be a 'Vigilante' series by Micah Wright, but he got let go. I don't know what's going on with that. And originally Jim and Brian were planning a 'Superman' arc that would show Luthor trying to kill Superman with the Spire to cap everything. But whether or not that's going to happen is really a question for those guys."
The city of Metropolis holds a very special position within the DC Universe. For starters, it's the home to their greatest hero, Superman. It's known as "The City of Tomorrow" and was rebuilt by Luthor and his company a number of years back using alien technology, making it a city truly on the cutting edge. Veitch introduced an added characteristic for the city, the idea that Metropolis is part of a Chi network, a very strong and powerful network of energy with Metropolis at the center of it all. Veitch noted that Metropolis definitely has many reasons for being special and that he and Edwards simply tried to offer one more reason that no one's thought of before. "With issue #5 we reveal that all the other cities in the DCU are on the Chi network, too, so there's a lot that can be done with it," said Veitch. "If someone really wanted to follow through they could make a case that the Chi is the basis for all earth magic in the DCU which might be fun. Superman's a solar battery, so the earth/sun conflict would explain his vulnerability to magic."
With regards to The Question AKA Vic Sage, he's taken a turn for the weird in this series. In the first issue we find our hero communicating with the city of Metropolis and you can't help but wonder if the gas Vic uses to attach the mask to his face is having a secondary effect on the character, taking him on some sort of extreme, psychotropic drug trip. "As the plot develops and we see how he can use the chi environment to his advantage against opponents, and indeed learns that Luthor's scientists have quantified it and are shaping it as a weapon, he doesn't come off as quite as crazy," explained Veitch. "The Question's new power is really intuition. He sees patterns in everyday objects that provide him with the clues he needs to solve crimes. And it only seemed natural to hint that his gas had psychotropic qualities in that regard."
Veitch said that The Question's new role as a shaman comes from his own interest and research in to the subject and feels it fits right in with the character and the intentions of his original creator, Steve Ditko. "Shamanism is essentially focused intuition which is the realm of the artist and writer," said Veitch. "Everybody possesses it to some degree. Intuition is a Ditko thing, too. His most famous character has 'Spidey Sense.' It also seemed to work really well with the silhouette captions we were using. Graphics based in silhouettes force the readers' mind to work in a different way; demanding that they fill in the missing details. That's intuition."
When the series was announced there were those out there who found this new shaman side of Vic's to be a turn off, saying it changed the character too much for their tastes. While that may have been the case for a select few, Veitch says the response he's gotten to the series has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. "There's always the diehards who want their favorite character to be exactly as he was in the old days," said Veitch. "But Tommy's and my Question has generated the best reviews and most personal responses of anything I've done since 'Brat Pack.' I get emails all the time from folks going 'Wow!' I have heard criticism from the 'Ditko Objectivists' who think I've abandoned that side of the original concept. But its quite the opposite; I'm saying that true objectivism must include human intuition and will ultimately bring one to confront states of consciousness that now are considered mystical in nature."
"I feel that it was very successful as a character trait for Vic and as an original approach to detective work and unique storytelling opportunities," added Edwards. "It's frustrating how set-in-stone some readers want their comic characters. I feel that most people who actually read the book and stuck with it learned to see the shamanistic stuff as a natural progression of The Question's skills."
Readers of the series know that this truly is a Question mini-series in every way with his alter ego Vic Sage playing a very small role. His position as a world-class investigative television reporter does get mentioned, but isn't explored too deeply, something Veitch wishes he had more time to work in to the series. "We wish we had more room to explore Vic. Some of the best scenes in the book are in the first issue with Vic on the train," said Veitch. "We caught something cool with the way Vic relates to his television celebrity that I'd love to get deeper into. But in this case it was more important for Superstorm to establish the Metropolis angle. While we don't see Vic that often, his unrequited love for Lois, which borders on mania, is shown to have in some ways been responsible for his becoming a vigilante. And it cements him as the eternal outsider, which is at the root of almost all Ditko characters."
Within the pages of "The Question," Veitch has introduced readers to a new group of villains, the aforementioned Subterraneans, a group of criminals that operate underground in the Metropolis subway system. Veitch said the idea for these characters was inspired by something Jim Lee mentioned at the Superstorm meetings. "The issue came up, like it always does, of how professional street criminals could even exist in Metropolis with Superman around. Jim said there would be some die hards who built lead lined apartments. But someone else pointed out it would alert Superman that something fishy was going on when he saw the lead. But it got me thinking, that there might actually be a lot of lead buried in the streets of Metropolis, since we could say the original sewer mains, long abandoned in the ground, were still there offering a sort of natural cover from X-Ray vision. And from there I began to think that the best criminal strategy would be to studiously avoid Superman's attention (and attention is another important shamanic tool). Then I began to conceive of a highly motivated group of criminals who hide in plain sight by operating out of a special subway train that slips in and out of regular train traffic secretly. Superman's just too busy to study every train running under Metropolis for no reason. They've also figured out Superman would never compromise citizens' privacy by looking inside their most private places, like bedrooms and bathrooms. So the Subterraneans use those places exclusively to run their criminal activity. They get kind of wiped out at the end of #6, though."
Looking at the art of "The Question," Metropolis as drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards jumps off the pages with bright colors and intricate designs. Edwards gave a lot of thought to what he wanted to capture and bring to the forefront with the city of Metropolis, one of the many stars of this series. "I wanted to approach the whole thing with the same vibe as a 1960's stylish crime / thriller type movie," said Edwards. "That mind-set affected everything from the costumes and hairstyles to the architecture to the compositions and colors utilized in each panel. Everything is very modern in 'The Question.' Metropolis is the perfect city to give a 'modern' feel. It's new and reflective and excessively huge."
One of the biggest challenges Veitch presented to Edwards was in illustrating the "chi-effect," which Edwards says was a real brainteaser for the artist. "I could not have done the storytelling as effectively if I did not handle all of the art chores (pencils, inks, colors)," said Edwards. "Laying the story out has by far been the most challenging part. That's also typically the most rewarding part. Rick's really given the reader their money's worth with 'The Question.' Making the storytelling clear and as effective as the script was tough. There's a lot that needs to be established in this book in and out of the action scenes.
The scenes where we see what Vic sees in the 'chi-reality' were especially tricky. Our man inspiration for the silhouette panels came from Infantino's 'Strange Sports Stories.'"
While he doesn't play a huge role in the series, Superman is an ominous presence in any series that takes place in Metropolis and "The Question" is no different, especially in issue #4 when Superman and The Question meet "face-to-face." "I was initially a little intimidated by drawing Superman- as I am with most superheroes," admitted Edwards. "The cool thing about drawing that character is how little you have to do. I mean, he's so recognizable. As long as you nail his body shape and the costume- you nail Superman. There's no need to draw excessive muscles or render the heck out of it.
"I drew The Question character as very earthy. He almost has no color in his costume. I made it so that his coat and hat and suit basically reflect the environment around him. It's fun to play up the visual differences between The Question and Superman."
Readers may have noticed in issue #2 that credit was given to a 3D computer modeler named Don Cameron, a friend of Edwards' who helps run an animation company in Los Angeles called Studio NM8. Edwards felt adding computer generated imagery to his hand-drawn artwork was important from a design sense. "I knew that Rick and I were planning on doing a lot with architecture in 'The Question,'" said Edwards. "I wanted to play with giving definitive designs to key buildings featured prominently in the series. Don built extremely beautiful models based on my hand-drawn designs of the Lex Luthor Tower, the Daily Planet, and some of the Science Spire. Sometimes the models were used as reference for me to draw from, and sometimes they were rendered and used within the actual finished artwork. The models help preserve consistency and save time with difficult perspective-shots.
"I have seen some comics attempt to integrate 3D elements into pages along side hand-drawn art and Photoshop-type stuff. For the most part, I feel that they've all been pretty unsuccessful. Don and I saw utilizing the models as a challenge to add one more tool to the 'creation bag' for The Question. For the most part, I feel that everything looks very unified and original with 'The Question.' It's hard for anyone to tell, really, what's been done with ink or Photoshop filters or with 3D StudioMax. There is always going to be stuff that I feel could be done better on this book, but I'm generally very proud of what we've accomplished."
Looking at the body of work Edwards has created outside of comics it includes a number of high profile pieces for the "Star Wars" films as well as the "Batman Begins" feature film style guide. So, why tackle a project like "The Question," which is definitely of a lower profile and probably not going to appeal to a wide audience within mainstream comics? "The first thing that drew me to the project is that Jim Lee went to bat for me and fought to get me on 'The Question,'" explained Edwards. "He seems to understand that I prefer to have a little more time to work on a comic and handle most of the art chores myself. He's also into the fact that I do a lot outside of comics- like film work, books, video game design, and advertising. Basically, I was encouraged to bring my artistic influences and skills 'outside' of comics and bring them 'in' on The Question. On top of that, The Question seemed like a character I could sink my teeth into and feel at home with."
When DC Comics gained the rights to the Charlton heroes in the 1980s, which the Question was a part of, there was a point where Alan Moore was going to use these Charlton heroes as the basis for the characters in "Watchmen." Ultimately, Moore created entirely new characters for "Watchmen," with the character of Rorsharch having been inspired by The Question. Historically, The Question hasn't always been an easy sell to readers and Veitch addressed The Question/Watchmen issues. "We began this version of the Question knowing the problem we faced was that Alan and Dave [Gibbons] had nailed the character already with Rorsharch," explained Veitch. "And I bet if they'd gone on to do a Rorsharch series it would have been a gigantic hit. But I wasn't interested in doing Question like Rorscarch; what interested me was that we could take the loner street vigilante concept, the objectivism, the tinge of madness and link up with the eastern mysticism of Denny O'neil's run. And in the uptake present an edgy angle to a character that no one had previously worked to death."
"Anything unique is going to be a harder sell," added Edwards. "I think The Question would be a good seller if he was more of a presence in the marketplace. He hasn't really been around since the O'Neil series of the 1980's. Because of the fact that I've never read 'Watchmen,' I've always seen The Question on his own merit. I've read most of the Charlton stories, and feel that our Question is much truer to Ditko's original creation than he is to what I know of Rorschach. It seemed liked the on-line fan-base immediately started comparing the two characters. It was funny to find that many of them did not know that The Question came first and was the blueprint for Rorschach."
We finish with a few teases from Veitch for issue #6 as well as what the possibility of a second "The Question" series by the two creators is looking like. "While the Spire will be left standing, the Question will have succeeded in blunting some of the Chi that was meant to power it as a weapon. Other than that all dangling plot lines will be answered.
"Tommy and I would dearly love to do a follow up. We've got a great idea for the Question in Gotham City. But sales on the miniseries weren't great. We're kind of bummed because the series got no marketing effort out of DC. Tommy and I organized and gave tons of interviews on-line. But other than a three-page preview in 'Superman,' the book received no advertising or any publisher organized press that we've seen. It wasn't even originally included with the Superman family titles in Previews. We think we turned out something really special and that a lot of other readers will dig it if they know it exists. If fans want more Question from Tommy and I, they need to get their friends to read the first series and let DC know they want more."